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The Primitive Edge of Experience

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Ogden constructs an anatomy and physiology of the psychic apparatus based on the interplay of the depressive, the paranoid-schizoid and the autistic - contiguous positions. The last position is his unique creation and refer to a primitive mode of experiencing that involves the moulding and shaping of boundaries.

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1. Introduction

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This book, having been written, has become part of the given and must now be overcome in the minds of its readers and its author. Having been written, it is static and no longer becoming anything other than itself. The potential value of this book lies in the degree to which it creates a possibility for the given (of which it is now a part) to be overcome through interpretation by the reader in a new and more generative way.

As analysts, we attempt to assist the analysand in his efforts at freeing himself from forms of organized experience (his conscious and unconscious “knowledge” of himself) that entrap him and prevent him from tolerating the experience of not knowing long enough to create understandings in a different way. The value of developing new ways of knowing lies not simply in the greater self-understanding one might achieve, but as importantly in the possibility that a wider range of thoughts, feelings, and sensations might be brought into being. Each insight, however valuable, immediately constitutes the next resistance in that the new knowledge is already part of the static known and must be overcome in the process of freshly knowing.

 

2. The Structure of Experience

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The other one, the one called Barges, is the one things happen to … I know of Barges from the mail … It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live it, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me.

J. L. Borges, “Borges and I”

Borges’s prose poem “Borges and I” (1960) delicately teases apart what ordinarily comprises the illusion of unity of experience. In an infinitely more clumsy way I would like to propose a psychoanalytic framework within which to think about the components of the dialectical process generating human experience. I will explore in this chapter the idea that human experience is constituted by the dialectical interplay of three different modes of generating experience: the depressive mode, the paranoid-schizoid mode, and the autistic-contiguous mode. The concept of the first two of these modes was introduced by Melanie Klein1; the third represents my own synthesis, clarification, and extension of ideas introduced primarily by Frances Tustin, Esther Bick, and Donald Meltzer. Each of these modes of generating experience is characterized by its own form of symbolization, method of defense, quality of object relatedness, and degree of subjectivity. The three modes stand in a dialectical relationship to one another, each creating, preserving, and negating the others. The idea of a single mode functioning without relation to the other two is as meaningless as the concept of the conscious mind in isolation from the concept of the unconscious mind; each is an empty set filled by the other pole or poles of the dialectic.

 

3. The Autistic-Contiguous Position

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The exchange of ideas constituting the British psychoanalytic discourse of the 1930s to the early 1970s revolved in large part around the work of Klein, Winnicott, Fair-bairn, and Bion. Each of these analysts provided the context for—as well as a counterpoint to —the ideas generated by the others. The history of the development of British object relations theory in the last twenty years can be viewed as containing the beginnings of an exploration of an area of experience lying outside of the experiential states addressed by Klein’s (1958) concepts of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions; by Fair-bairn’s (1944) conception of the internal object world; by Bion’s (1962) conception of projective identification as a primitive form of defense, communication, and containment; or by Winnicott’s (1971a) conception of the evolution of the mother-infant relationship and the elaboration of transitional phenomena.

The clinical and theoretical work of Esmer Bick (1968, 1986), Donald Meltzer (Meltzer, 1975; Meltzer et. al., 1975), and Frances Tustin (1972, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986), developed in the context of their clinical work with autistic children, has served to define a heretofore insufficiently understood dimension of all human experience (more primitive than the paranoid-schizoid position) that I refer to as the autistic-contiguous position. The present chapter represents a synthesis, interpretation, and extension of the work of these analytic thinkers. (A partial listing of other important contributors to diis area of investigation includes: J. Anthony 1958; Anzieu 1970; Bion 1962; Bower 1977; Brazelton 1981; Eimas 1975; Fordham 1977; E. Gaddini 1969, 1987; R. Gaddini 1978, 1987; Grotstein 1978, 1983; Kanner 1944; S. Klein 1980; Mahler 1952, 1968; Milner 1969 D. Rosenfeld 1984; Sander 1964; Searles 1960; Spitz 1965; Stern 1977, 1985; Trevarthan 1979; and Winnicott 1960a.)

 

4. The Schizoid Condition

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… or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music.

T. S. Eliot, “The Dry Salvages”

It has been half a century since Fairbairn (1940) published his pioneering work, “Schizoid factors in the personality.” I believe that most of what is presently understood about schizoid phenomena can be found in that classic paper and in the three that followed shortly thereafter (1941, 1943, 1944). However, developments in analytic thinking over the past twenty years require that we re-examine our conception of the schizoid personality. No longer is it possible to maintain the views of Fairbairn and later of Klein (1946), that the schizoid organization represents the most primitive human psychological organization. In the present chapter, I propose that autistic-contiguous phenomena can be thought of as the “underbelly”—or the primitive edge —of the schizoid personality organization.

I shall begin by delineating what it is that I have in mind when I refer to the schizoid condition. The initial picture that will be presented represents a condensation of my own interpretation of the work of Fairbairn and Klein. Although the metapsychologies of Fairbairn and Klein differ in fundamental ways, I have found that these analysts are in basic agreement with regard to the phenomenology of schizoid experience. This will be followed by a discussion of aspects of the work of Winnicott and Guntrip that address the schizoid condition. Finally, I shall discuss portions of the analysis of a schizoid patient in an effort to demonstrate the way in which analytic thinking about schizoid phenomena must incorporate an understanding of the nature of the interplay of autistic-contiguous and paranoid-schizoid modes of generating experience.

 

5. The Transitional Oedipal Relationship in Female Development

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Transitions from one psychological organization to another are of particular importance in psychoanalytic thinking and yet are among the most difficult aspects of psychological development to conceptualize. The present chapter attempts to make a contribution to the psychoanalytic understanding of the transition in female development that occurs at the threshold of the Oedipus complex. The early phase of the female Oedipus complex will be viewed as a pivotal moment in development in which a form of transitional relationship to the mother mediates the little girl’s entry into Oedipal object love. This transitional relationship is similar to, but distinct from, the earlier relationship to the transitional object described by Winnicott (1951, 1971a). The paradoxical nature of the little girl’s transitional Oedipal relationship (created by mother and daughter) lies in the fact that the first triadic object relationship occurs in the context of a two-person relationship; the first heterosexual relationship develops in a relationship between two females; the father as libidinal object is discovered in the mother.

 

6. The Threshold of the Male Oedipus Complex

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The Oedipus complex was in many ways for Freud the centerpiece of psychoanalytic theory. He saw in it the convergence of universal psychological structure, unconscious personal meaning, and the influence of the power of desire emanating from the body. As a result, the Oedipus complex has properly occupied a central position in analytic thinking for more than ninety years.1 In this chapter, I shall limit my focus to an aspect of the Oedipus complex that I believe has heretofore been a relatively neglected part of the analytic discourse concerning early Oedipal development.

Although it is generally agreed that the transition into the Oedipus complex represents a critical juncture in psychological development, I believe that psychoanalytic theory has not yet sufficiently elaborated a conception of the psychological-interpersonal processes mediating this transition in male development. In this chapter, I shall propose that the transition into the male Oedipus complex is mediated by a transitional relationship with the mother, analogous to that seen in female development (cf. Chapter 5), but with a significant difference in emphasis. This difference is a consequence of the fact that the Oedipal mother is and is not the same mother the little boy loved, hated, and feared prior to his discovery of her (and his father) as external Oedipal objects. The complications caused by the psychological proximity of the pre-Oedipal and Oedipal love objects (in the positive Oedipus complex) are specific to male development, and necessitate a psychological solution that is distinctive to the development of the boy. Essential to the resolution of the problem resulting from the coincidence of the object of the little boy’s pre-Oedipal and Oedipal love is the role of the primal scene phantasy2 as an unconscious organizer of evolving sexual meaning and personal identity.3

 

7. The Initial Analytic Meeting

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We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, “Little Gidding”

Psychoanalytic concepts and techniques, in order to retain their vitality, must again and again be discovered by the analyst as if for the first time. The analyst must allow himself to be freshly surprised by the ideas and phenomena that he takes most for granted. For example, he must be able to allow himself to be genuinely caught off guard by the pervasiveness of the influence of the unconscious mind, by the power of the transference, and by the intransigence of resistance — and to only retrospectively apply the familiar names to these freshly rediscovered phenomena. If the analyst allows himself to perpetually be the beginner that he is, it is sometimes possible to learn that which he thought he already knew. This chapter is a collection of thoughts addressed to myself (and other novices) on the subject of the opening of the analytic drama. I will make no attempt to be exhaustive since the topic touches upon almost every aspect of psychoanalytic theory and technique. My starting point for a discussion of the first analytic meeting is the idea that there is no difference between the analytic process in the first meeting and that in any other analytic meeting: the analyst in the initial meeting is no more or less an analyst, the analysand no more or less an analysand, the analysis no more or less an analysis than in any other meeting.

 

8. Misrecognitions and the Fear of Not Knowing

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The work of a group of British and French psychoanalytic thinkers, including Bion, Lacan, McDougall, Tustin, and Winnicott, has led me to understand certain psychological difficulties in terms of an unconscious fear of not knowing. What the individual is not able to know is what he feels, and therefore who, if anyone, he is. The patient regularly creates the illusion for himself (and secondarily for others) that he is able to generate thoughts and feelings, wishes and fears that feel like his own. Although this illusion constitutes an effective defense against the terror of not knowing what one feels or who one is, it further alienates the individual from himself. The illusion of knowing is achieved through the creation of a wide range of substitute formations that fill the “potential space” (Winnicott, 197Id) in which desire and fear, appetite and fullness, love and hate might otherwise come into being.

The “misrecognitions” that are used as defenses against the fear of not knowing represent a less extreme form of alienation from affective experience than “alex-ithymia” (Nemiah, 1977), states of “non-experience” (Og-den, 1980, 1982b), and “disaffected” states (McDougall, 1984), wherein potential feelings and phantasies are foreclosed from the psychological sphere. It is also a less extreme psychological catastrophe than schizophrenic fragmentation wherein there is very little of a self capable of creating, shaping, and organizing the internal and external stimuli that ordinarily constitute experience. The patients I will be focusing upon have the capacity to generate a sense of self sufficiently integrated and sufficiently bounded to enable them to know that they do not know. That is, these are patients who are able to experience the beginnings of feelings of confusion, emptiness, despair, and panic, as well as being able to mobilize defenses against these incipient feelings.

 

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